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Arizona national parks see rebound in visitors after pandemic

According to a recent report by the National Park Service, Arizona's national parks saw a total of 10.7 million visitors last year.
Credit: AP
FILE - This file photo shows visitors at the Grand Canyon in Grand Canyon, Arizona, on May 15, 2020. Joseph Don Mount of Chehalis, Wash., pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor on Friday, March 25, 2022, for his acknowledged role in organizing a rim-to-rim hike at Grand Canyon for nearly 140 people when the size of such groups was limited. He was sentenced to two years of probation. (AP Photo/Matt York, File)

PHOENIX — More than 10 million visitors made their way to national parks in Arizona last year while spending $1.12 billion, according to a recent report by the National Park Service. 

These numbers are an increase from the low, pandemic-induced numbers of 2020.

“What the National Parks report shows really is that people are more and more embracing Arizona,” said Josh Coddington, director of communications for the Arizona Office of Tourism.

The Arizona travel industry experienced an estimated decline of 41% in tourism spending in 2020, which was more than the U.S. average of 36%, according to the Arizona Office of Tourism.

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COVID-19 brought Arizona's national park visitor numbers down to 7.6 million in 2020 compared to 12.5 million in 2019, according to the National Park Service. The pandemic especially affected air travel which resulted in a 50% decline for domestic travelers coming to the state. 

A recent report released by the Arizona Office of Tourism shows that Arizona welcomed 40.9 million overnight visitors to the state in 2021. This total is 87% of visitor levels before the pandemic. Arizona tourism officials said it’s a step in the right direction.

“We’re lucky in Arizona that we have a wide open state with a lot of diversity of places to visit,” Coddington said. “That’s what people were looking for in 2021 -- was going on a road trip with maybe their family and a friend, and just going out and checking out some of the different kinds of places in Arizona.”

Grand Canyon National Park welcomed 4.5 million visitors last year which was up from the 2.9 million visitors they saw in 2020. Coddington said visitors spent “$710 million in the surrounding gateway communities” which supported more than 9,000 jobs, according to the National Park Service. 

RELATED: Arizona Office of Tourism hopes international travel makes a comeback in 2022

People who stop, shop and stay in local communities around both state and national parks are directly supporting local businesses in that community, Coddington said.

International travelers also love to visit Arizona, Coddington said. Grand Canyon National Park is the number one favorite park for foreign travelers to visit, according to VISA. Coddington said this is due to travel agencies abroad advertising the popularity of Arizona tourism.

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There’s also another advantage to tourism in Arizona.

“A lot of people who are visitors today will become residents tomorrow,” Coddington said. 

Coddington said he is hoping that tourism continues to build back in a strong and sustainable way in Arizona. 

To help this effort, the Arizona Office of Tourism has created "Appreciate AZ," which teaches tourists how to enjoy the state's attractions sustainably. For more information about sustainable tourism in Arizona, visit: www.visitarizona.com/appreciate-az/

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